Sondheim - Sweeney Todd

Palais de la Monnaie, Brussels, Sunday June 26 2016

Conductor: Bassem Akiki. Production: James Brining. Sets & costumes: Colin Richmond. Lighting: Chris Davey. Sweeney Todd: Scott Hendricks. Anthony Hope: Finnur Bjarnason. Beggar Woman: Natascha Petrinsky. Mrs. Lovett: Carole Wilson. Judge Turpin: Andrew Schroeder. Beadle Bamford: Christopher Gillett. Johanna Barker: Hendrickje Van Kerckhove. Tobias Ragg: George Ure. Pirelli: Paul Charles Clarke. Jonas Fogg: Matthew Zadow. Orchestra and Chorus of La Monnaie.

From La Monnaie's web-site:

'The production of Frankenstein - the new creation that La Monnaie commissioned from the American composer Mark Grey, based on an idea by Alex Ollé of La Fura dels Baus - is postponed to a later date. Instead of Frankenstein, we will close this season with another first for La Monnaie, which is also “out of the box”: namely Sweeney Todd.'

The Châtelet in Paris has been putting on Sondheim pieces for the past three of four years, but, having heard bits on the radio or web, I have steered clear. The Brussels matinée subscription is, however, a set menu: you take what you are given (though in this case not what was originally announced). So along we went.

Not entirely "out-of-the box", as the economical but effective sets used shipping containers: on the right, a couple of them, stacked, on the left, another, raised on scaffolding, between them an opening with an industrial curtain of vertical plastic strips. The boxes opened up to show rooms in Turpin's house or, on the left, the barber shop. The production was in that vaguely modern dress – not 50s, not 60s, not quite today either – we see so often. The acting, it seemed to me, was stage-school style – borderline hammy, trying hard but not quite succeeding. The dialogues and singing were all miked, so it was impossible to see who was saying or singing what, or judge of the performance. The text sounded like A. C. Douglas struggling to be humorous, and fake Cockney accents only made it worse. And, finally, the music confirmed what I suspected: I can't bear Sondheim. It's nails on slate to my ears ("Send in the clowns": aaaaaargh....). I know I'm in a minority, but I'm not alone: after mentioning it to a friend on Gmail, I received this:

"I LOATHE Sondheim. I presume you have seen this ('Waiting for the tune to begin...')"

So as soon as we could escape the stifling, noisy tent La Monnaie is currently using (and risks using for the whole 2016-2017 season), we did.


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